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London is full of life and greener than many think.
  • Brighton Festival. For the love of...Nightingales

    Our history and cultures are littered with nature references and so it's no surprise to find that this year's Brighton Festival has taken inspiration from the world around us.

    Musician and Brighton Festival star Sam Lee has written a guest blog all about his performances with NIGHTINGALES to share the joy he gets from nature. You can share the joy you get by joining our "For the Love of...." event in London on 17 June.

    Here's Sam's blog:

    Sam Lee

    For six short weeks around this time of year when the dusk turns to gloaming and the gloaming to dark, the land softens its throb and hustle and one of the most virtuosic singers the world has born takes to his lofty stage and commences a symphony sculpted in liquid so supple it intoxifies the spirit like a swig of crisp moonshine.

    But better that the moon doesn’t shine as legend tells us the Nightingales go shy around fulls. This spring however the lunar calendar has been consulted and Brighton Festival’s scheduled walks will be in the cover of the Downs darkest enclaves deep amongst the blackthorn where these dusky brown songsters salute to the skies. Above them passing females winding their way north from their Africa residencies are lured down by these well-landed avian bachelors.

    This rare and rather unspectacular looking bird is, as I always say, an African bird that flies to England for the summer. His song is too exotic, too magnificent, to agile and flirtatious to be British against the modesty of say a song thrush or skylark or even a skydiving snipe. Their dusk till dawn timekeeping is more of a Chicago blues bar busker full of hollers and croons and syncopated backbeats dancing, shuffling and diving. They are lonely canopy cowboys whooping a high lonesome chorus, reaching up and out in giddy pulses. Their heads arched back and proud projecting, throwing sound out across the landscape as would an imam, with prayers to the land, sonnets to the silent arenas of undulating hedgerows. This is nightingale time and I am daring to enter into a long tradition of bestial musical duetery but this time with an audience in tow.

    After a love affair with their singing a sample found its way onto an interpretation of the traditional song ‘The Tanyard Side’ I recorded a few years back. Many conversations with Brighton Festival ensued and subsequently an unexpectedly successful BBC R4 mini doc ‘Singing With The Nightingales’ aired last May to celebrate 90 years of outside broadcasting after Elgar’s favourite cellist Beatrice Harrison’s iconic duet with the birds made radio history.

    Sam Lee performing on stage with Omer Ihas

    Suddenly nightingales, which are today dropping in numbers at horrific rates, are very ‘Du Jour’ (or more accurately ‘Du Nuit’) and so this year, with an avian and migratory theme at the festival, the dream role has fallen on my shoulders to be the songful guide of six unique nocturnal safaris; to seek out some class singers and share in a symbiotic musical exchange other ancient folk songs I have gathered as a singer and song collector that speak of the land, of bird worlds and of the relationship that man has with nature. Some very special musical guests have also been invited to join these excursions and a promise of the most exquisite musical journey has been made. Who knows what will happen, who knows if they will sing. So far their artist contracts have not be signed or returned and with such delicate feathered beasts, as with all of nature, one can never be too sure what will happen.

    Sam Lee's Nightingale Walks will take place on Wed 13 - Fri 15, and Tue 19 - Thu 21 May, 9pm until late as part of Brighton Festival. For more information visit http://brightonfestival.org/event/5857/sam_lees_nightingale_walk/

     

    We are blessed to have nightingales in the south east of England, and who knows, maybe we'll get some venturing into London this year. We have one of the most important sites in the country for nightingales in Kent, which is currently under threat of development. Read more about our campaign to save the nightingales and the Lodge Hill sites other scarce wildlife here.

  • Pre-valentine day celebration of our Love for Nature

    The places we all cherish have this February moved a step closer to safety, thanks to a couple of Government decisions.

    These important pockets of land, so vital for nature and recreation or simply tranquil spots where people can meditate on life, are under increasing pressure as we struggle to meet the demands of a growing population.

    Sites of Special Scientific Interest [SSSI] are some of the UK’s finest examples of landscapes which support rare and threatened species. You’d think these jewels would be well and truly protected from development.

    On Thursday 12 February the Infrastructure Act 2015 received Royal Assent: a complete exclusion on developments for fracking in protected areas is now law! The precise list of protected areas will be defined in secondary regulations by 31 July. It’s expected to include National Parks, the Broads, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and SSSIs.

    Having said that, the original decision to ban fracking "within and under" protected areas was overturned the week before. We will work to restore the original definition before July 31. The sensitivity and special features of many SSSIs are more than skin deep. Ecosystems like chalk streams, for example, could be particularly vulnerable to impacts such as water abstraction or pollution. So there is obviously more work to be done here to secure “protected” areas from unsuitable uses.

    Friday 13th proved lucky for us, as late in the afternoon, the Department for Communities and Local Government announced they were “calling-in” planning consent granted by Medway Council for 5000 homes (and supporting infrastructure) to be built on a SSSI site at Lodge Hill in Kent.

    What this means is that the objection we lodged in partnership with other conservation organisations, backed by more than 12,400 people, has raised sufficient Government concern that they want to examine Medway Council’s decision in detail.

    The RSPB’s Director of Conservation, Martin Harper, says: “This is about the future of England’s finest nightingale site. Through an inquiry we hope and expect that this development will be rejected and the future of this Site of Special Scientific Interest and all other SSSI’s in the country will be secured. The important issue of housing allocation in North Kent should proceed without impacting on nationally-important wildlife sites.”

    Medway Council’s proposal would destroy 144 hectares of the SSSI, one of the largest losses of a SSSI since the Wildlife and Countryside Act came into force in 1981. The decision is also in direct conflict with the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).

    Lodge Hill includes flower-rich grassland and ancient woodland. We don’t yet know exactly what does live on the site. It was a Ministry of Defence base, so access was limited and the surveys that have been conducted were not detailed. We do know that, apart from its sizeable nightingale population, the site is also home to one of England’s rarest butterflies, the Duke of Burgundy. Red shanked carder bee and grizzled skipper butterflies, both also species of conservation concern, have also been recorded at Lodge Hill.Aerial views of Lodge Hill

  • Building a better London, for people AND wildlife

    Untouched plasticine waiting to be moulded, image from internet commons

    The start of a New Year always fills me with positive energy. It’s like unwrapping a shiny new block of plasticine when you were a kid; it’s all clean, flawless and full of potential, filling your senses with its scent, texture and malleability. But whose fingerprints will successfully dominate the creation that will be formed by the end of the year as the plasticine sets hard?

    Tuesday January 6 marked the day predicted by the Greater London Authority for the capital’s population to exceed the last record of 8.6 million people, set in pre-WWII 1939. More people now live in cities worldwide than live in rural settings and this changes the way we manage the world around us.

    Last September on BBC Radio4, Sir David Attenborough talked about promoting women’s rights to save the world, as without exception, “where women are given the rights over their own bodies. Where they have political independence; where they have medical facilities to enable them to control the number of children they bear; where they are literate; where they have the vote. When those things happen, the birth rate falls”.

    Human overpopulation is not a specialist subject of mine, nor is it one the RSPB champions, but it is interesting to hear someone with Sir David’s experiences and understanding of the world highlighting it as an important issue.

    Growing populations do pose challenges, such as the need for more housing, more food and water, increased waste management and energy creation. All of this does impact on species conservation as it reduces the amount of area available to support wildlife. The good news is that we now have the knowledge and technology to enable gains for people and nature in new developments and renovations.

    Barratt Homes is one of the many big developers that recognise this too, and they’re working with the RSPB and others to ensure their new homes incorporate space for wildlife and benefit from what’s called green infrastructure, where landscaping and planting helps manage water and improve air quality. Having access to greenspace is also known to improve people’s physical and mental well-being, making Barratt’s homes more attractive to buyers. It makes you wonder why all other developers have not adopted the same approach.

     It’s relatively easy and saves money in the long-run. What’s more, you can easily copy many of the ideas. Replacing solid outdoor surfaces with material that allows water to drain through reduces run-off to the drains and swelling waterways. Having hedges, trees and shrubs improves air quality, provides space for wildlife and reduces the impact of storms.

    Imagine this multiplied across London with existing homes and gardens, then add the potential new developments can bring, and you can see how easily London could become a world leader in green development and how this can create new jobs and new opportunities while making it a nicer place to visit for people and wildlife. To achieve this, we must all leave our prints in the plasticine.

    A plasticine cityscape created by N16 scholl children, courtesy of the Newham Recorder